Blood Will Tell
Margaret Agnew

Family pulls stronger than anything else, or at least, that’s how it is for Frankie Barrera, who has spent her life protecting her younger sister, Izzy. Due to their infirm parents, she has spent a great deal of time raising her sister. Thrust into a position of responsibility over her sibling, Frankie finds herself willing to do just about anything for Izzy.

In Heather Chavez’s second novel, Blood Will Tell, that anything includes lying, trespassing, and putting herself in constant danger. But it is her greatest act of devotion— covering up for Izzy after she hits someone with a car—that comes back to bite them both five years later.

Izzy is an addict who lies and steals and hangs out with less-than-savory people. The night of her accident, Frankie picks up Izzy from the scene, but finds only a dead deer. More concerned with getting her heavily intoxicated sister to the hospital, Frankie lets herself believe it was just a deer—but the girl Izzy says she hit, Rachel, hasn’t been seen since. Frankie’s fears are confirmed the morning after the crash when she finds human hair and blood on the front of her car. She carefully washes it away, along with memories of that fateful night.

The sisters have tried to get on with their lives, but neither has ever truly healed. When Rachel’s sister Marina goes missing five years after Rachel’s disappearance, their old crime resurfaces to haunt them. It comes out that Izzy borrowed Frankie’s truck without permission the night of this new disappearance, and that Marina’s mother saw Marina get into a vehicle that looked very much like it. Frankie even finds herself stopped at a gas station by police when her license plate matches the one from Marina’s missing person’s report.

It seems it’s time for Frankie to question everything she thinks she knows about her sister, no matter how much Izzy pushes them apart. But can Izzy really be a killer? And is she more clever than Frankie has ever given her credit for?

The narrative is split between Frankie trying to solve the five-year-old case before Izzy goes down for it, and her reminisces of how she and Izzy got to where they are in the first place. That night so long ago is a part of it, but the story makes it clear that reckless behavior has long been a part of who Izzy is. When the accident happened, she and five other teenagers were in the middle of the woods. They were drunk and careless, and no one really has a clear memory of what happened that night. Each tells a slightly different story, and each is protecting someone else in the group.

Given the long list of Izzy’s past negative behavior, and that she almost relapses over the course of the narrative, it’s hard to blame Frankie for fretting. Izzy is on the edge of falling, even as she takes her final faltering steps toward adulthood. Frankie still has a bone-deep desire to protect Izzy, and it’s very possible that it’s keeping her blind to what her sister is capable of.

Fast-paced and nail-biting, Blood Will Tell will keep readers whipping through the pages. As there aren’t really very many characters, you’ll probably guess who did it by the end, but thanks to Chavez’s clear prose, strong characterization of Frankie, and fine plotting, readers really shouldn’t mind. This is only Chavez’s second published work, but it’s already as crisp as a late series installment.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 15:56:12
In the Blood
Jay Roberts

Following the events of The Devil’s Hand, the previous book in the James Reece thriller series by Jack Carr, our hero is resting and recuperating in the relative wilds of Montana. But trouble has a way of drawing one back in (especially if you’re Reece), and this time it comes barreling headlong toward him when a former colleague of his, an Israeli assassin for Mossad, turns up among the dead after a terrorist attack in Africa.

Reece has to know whether the agent’s demise was a coincidence or whether she was targeted. To that end, he heads off to Africa to find out. He quickly learns that not only was the woman targeted, but her killing was just the first domino to fall in a trap designed to draw him back onto the field of battle where his enemies plan to kill him once and for all. Their reasons stretch all the way back to Reece’s father’s work as a spy and certain truths that are better left unrevealed.

It’s Reece against the world as he travels from Africa to Israel to Montenegro to Moscow conducting his own symphony of death and destruction. But with his enemies legion and unconcerned about collateral damage, can Reece win out and bring justice to those who have done him wrong?

Author Jack Carr has quickly turned the James Reece series into one of the most highly anticipated thrillers in the game with each successive installment and In the Blood is no exception. The author’s background as a former Navy SEAL makes everything ring with an air of authenticity. As Reece crisscrosses the globe, Carr continuously ramps up the action and keeps the adrenaline high. From the opening tragedy that sets off the plot, straight through to its almost operatic and stunning conclusion, In the Blood will leave thriller readers picking their jaws up off the floor.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 16:02:20
Miss Morton and the English
Debbie Haupt

Catherine Lloyd, English-born author of the acclaimed Kirkland St. Mary mysteries, begins an intriguing new Regency-set series that introduces readers to the indomitable 26-year-old Lady Caroline Morton. Caroline and her sister are disgraced after her father Earl Morton squanders their family fortune (including his daughters’ dowries). Fiercely independent and unwilling to accede to the expectations of her family, times, and station, she leaves her sister in her aunt and uncle’s care to take a position as a paid companion to a nouveau riche widow, Mrs. Frogerton. It’s a decision that makes her even more of a social pariah among her aristocratic peers.

It is also why she’s perplexed when her aunt and former benefactor, Lady Greenwood, invites her and her employer to the birthday celebration of Caroline’s cousin Mabel. Their arrival is met with ambivalence by those in attendance, but nothing will deter Caroline from reconnecting with her sister. The social snubbing takes a backseat though, when an elderly family member is murdered. Caroline, with the assistance of Mrs. Frogerton, is determined to solve the grim crime despite a plethora of suspects and the objections of her family, who would prefer to sweep it under the rug.

Social injustices, prejudices, and all things Regency, including the appropriate flowery narrative, may be hard pills for present-day readers to swallow, but are era appropriate and well researched in this superb series debut. Caroline is an absolute gem of a heroine, whom readers will surely come to love as she bravely maneuvers through polite society to gather evidence and determine whodunit. Regardless of the unresolved ending, fans of historical mysteries and uncompromising women protagonists will find Miss Morton and the English House Party Murder impossible to put down.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 16:06:49
The Murder Rule
Sarah Prindle

In the year 2007, a young mother named Sarah Fitzhugh was raped and murdered in her own home. Police arrested Michael Dandridge, a local drug user, who was tried and convicted of the crime. Doubts about his guilt persisted, however, and in 2019, the Innocence Project—a group dedicated to freeing prisoners who’ve been unfairly convicted—takes an interest and decides to help Dandridge prove his innocence.

Hannah Rokeby, a college student from Maine, comes to work at the Innocence Project on the case. But her reasons for being there are not what she claims. Dandridge hurt her mother, Laura, years ago, and Hannah intends to make sure that he stays in prison. But the more she investigates, the less certain she becomes of the truth. Someone is lying, but how can she tell who? The stakes are high, as the life of a man hangs in the balance, and Hannah must decide what she believes and where she stands.

The Murder Rule is a thought-provoking book by Irish-Australian crime writer McTiernan, whose first novel, The Rúin, won the Ned Kelly, Davitt, and Barry awards. Her skill is apparent in the way she crafts her suspenseful mystery, delving into vivid detail of characters’ backgrounds, and at the same time, giving readers a close look at the legal system with all its faults and gray areas.

The characters are compelling, particularly the narrator, Hannah, who finds her long-held assumptions challenged as she struggles to figure out what really happened. Her budding friendships with some of the other young people working at the Innocence Project are conflicted, since she has to maintain a façade around them and conceal the real reason she’s there. Michael Dandridge is the most mysterious character of all though, as Hannah and readers try to discern whether he is innocent or guilty—both possibilities are convincingly plausible.

There are several twists and turns in this story, many red herrings, and false statements that ultimately lead to a nail-biting courtroom confrontation before finally revealing the truth. The Murder Rule challenges readers to carefully study the justice system, reconsider their own beliefs, and look at future cases with an open mind.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 16:12:15
Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies
Debbie Haupt

Misha Popp’s cozy series debut Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies is equal parts charming and chilling and just about good enough to eat. Her protagonist, magic pie baker Daisy Ellery, is the latest in a long line of magical women with powers that have been passed from mothers to daughters for generations. Her grandmother sewed magic into her clothing creations; her mom put magic into her client’s haircuts and perms; and now, Daisy bakes magic into her pies. Some are good for what ails and some can kill—well, only if you deserve it.

It was an accidental killing by pie that has kept Daisy on the run since she was orphaned at age 17. But finally, at 23, Daisy thinks she may have found a home in Turnbridge, Massachusetts. She’s baking pies for a local diner, making good friends, and has hopefully found somewhere she can permanently park Penny, her pink-and-white vintage RV.

That is until someone leaves a blackmail note on her door.

Popp’s debut is part whimsy, part thriller, and all fun. Through the course of the book she gradually feeds readers Daisy’s life story as Daisy attempts to suss out who’s trying to upturn her new life. Popp’s characters are engaging, but it’s definitely Daisy who’s the superstar. She’s a multifaceted baker on a mission. She’s compassionate and wise beyond her years, and she manages to surround herself with a worthy group of compadres.

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies goes down as smooth and sweet as butter cream—until the middle when the author hits readers between the eyes with an OMG plot twist that’s more like a banana cream to the face. The pièce de résistance is the delectable recipes at the end of the book. Fans of baking mysteries and magic realism (à la Sarah Addison Allen) will devour this one.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 16:18:30
A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons
Jean Gazis

Saffron Everleigh is a recent graduate of University College in London who works as a research assistant in the botany lab of her beloved mentor, Dr. Maxwell. She hopes to pursue a graduate degree and follow in her late father’s footsteps as a professor and researcher, but it’s 1923 and she’s the only woman in a department where rampant sexual harassment and male condescension stymie her ambition.

At a swanky dinner party celebrating the university’s upcoming scientific expedition to the Amazon, the wife of Dr. Henry, the philandering department head, suddenly collapses. The diagnosis is poisoning. Dr. Maxwell is the main suspect—he’s an expert in plant toxins and was recently seen having a heated argument with Dr. Henry. Shocked by his arrest, smart and plucky Saffron is determined to track down the real culprit, even though the stone-faced police inspector keeps dismissing the ideas and evidence she presents.

She finds an unexpected ally in Alexander Ashton, a handsome biologist who secretly bears the physical and psychological scars of the Great War. Alexander has been assigned to carry out Maxwell’s research project in the Amazon and he needs Saffron’s help to prepare. Though reticent about his personal life, Alexander is kind and treats Saffron with unaccustomed respect as a fellow scientist. The pair have just two weeks to discover the truth before the expedition team, including Alexander, will depart for Brazil, perhaps with the true poisoner among them.

The list of suspects quickly expands as Saffron and Alexander uncover hidden motives, personal and professional rivalries, and possible financial misconduct among the college’s faculty members. As they work together, the mutual romantic attraction and friendship between the young scientists grows—as does the risk that the poisoner will strike at them next.

Saffron is an engaging and intrepid heroine, Alexander a complicated, yet dashing hero, and the chemistry between them is just right. The many supporting characters, including the police, Saffron’s roommate Elizabeth, and the scientists and staff at the university are lively and well drawn. The academic atmosphere and scientific details are believable (though the author admits to taking a bit of artistic license), and the plot’s twists and turns keep the suspense humming along to its satisfying conclusion. Mystery readers will find Kate Khavari’s debut a welcome and entertaining addition to the whodunit genre.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 16:23:24
The Complication
Robin Agnew

I confess, I was a giant fan of Michael Palmer, the doctor-turned-thriller writer. I still miss his books (I’ve read them all), and I’m happy to say, Amanda DuBois may fill the void for me. Palmer wrote good, old-fashioned, page-turning medical thrillers. He certainly had a formula and he stuck to it, but it was a good one. As this is the first book by Amanda DuBois, I can’t say if she has a formula yet, but she’s got the page-turning part down— and she’s got the medical knowledge (she was a nurse). She is also a practicing attorney in addition to her writing, so the legal knowledge involved in The Complication is just as authentic.

DuBois’ main character, Camille, is a hybrid just like her creator. A former trauma nurse who once worked medical malpractice, she’s now a part of a white-shoe law firm. The book opens with a surgery that goes terribly wrong. DuBois writes the scene with an immediacy and high stakes that grab the reader’s attention. And when the patient, Dallas Jackson, dies, the author just as effectively inspires readers to care more deeply about him through the characterization of his family members. A chapter in, and we already have a real stake in the outcome.

Dallas’ wife and daughter don’t suspect anything amiss with Dallas’ death, but the more Camille looks at it, the more certain she is that something went terribly wrong. She leaves her firm and takes on Dallas as her first case in a return to medical malpractice. It’s a decision that is not met with enthusiasm by her doctor husband, who reminds her of their kid’s school tuition and looming college expenses.

DuBois neatly stitches together the medical mystery surrounding Dallas’ death and the legal aspect of her story as Camille works to uncover just what happened using her expertise as a lawyer. Other characters also aid Camille in her case, mainly Camille’s investigator Trish and a research doctor who is an expert on aneurysms (the putative cause of Dallas’ death).

As the three unravel what is going on with the surgeon behind Dallas’ death, the thriller part of the novel moves front and center. There is even a first-person, small plane flight scene executed with bravura toward the end of the novel that made me wonder if this lawyer/doctor/writer might not also be a pilot.

What made the book a bit more special for me was the feminine perspective. As much as I enjoyed Michael Palmer’s books, his characters never worried about the car pool or the Brownie troop or juggling their career choices with the practicalities of raising a family. The fact that DuBois’ characters do, made the book all the more richer and interesting to me. This is a great first effort, and I am very much looking forward to more from this gifted writer.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 16:29:35
Nathan Nance

“It’s too late to turn back.”

That’s what everyone keeps saying. And for Cecily Wong, failed reporter and failed climber, it’s true. Her last chance at a career-making story is only one hurdle away—she has to summit Manaslu, the eighth-highest peak in the world, to win a coveted interview with Charles McVeigh.

McVeigh is a mysterious figure, a world-renowned but notably media-shy mountain climber. Manaslu is the last in his record-breaking streak and he’s agreed to an interview if Cecily can make the climb with him. It’s her last chance to save her career and get her life on track, so against all better judgment, she agrees.

When the first body drops, Cecily fears someone is haunting their steps. When a second climber dies, they’ve gone too far to stop. Now, amid hypoxia, dehydration, and pure terror, Cecily must find the killer and their motive before she too is left lifeless in the snow.

Breathless is aptly titled—once you open the book, you might forget to breathe. In her adult fiction debut, Amy McCulloch, a bestselling YA author (The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow), transports the reader up a windswept, rugged path to Manaslu rendered with an artist’s detail and an experienced climber’s knowledge. Since Cecily is an amateur mountaineer, she serves as an effective audience surrogate, allowing readers to learn the terminology and expectations alongside her. Cecily’s desperate climb is the obstacle that helps her discover who she is and reveals her own hidden courage.

With a surfeit of dangers to choose from in the Himalayas, McCulloch masterfully ratchets up the tension with each passing chapter. While the mountain casts an ever-present shadow that looms with promises of both death and fame, the elements never overshadow the murder mystery itself. Breathless is a thriller debut with enough twists and turns to satisfy any reader.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 16:33:41
Pay Dirt Road
Benjamin Boulden

It’s easy to see why Samantha Jayne Allen won the Tony Hillerman Prize for her debut novel, Pay Dirt Road. The small-town setting is vividly claustrophobic, the characters realistic, and the mystery an intriguing tale of rural poverty, hopelessness, and outright greed.

After graduating from college, 22-yearold Annie McIntyre is back home in Garnett, a West Texas town without much future other than an impending oil boom that promises as many problems—crime, heavy traffic, and environmental damage—as it does economic opportunities. Annie’s own future is looking equally unpromising. She’s waitressing at the town’s only café and feels like she did back in high school, stuck in the sticks waiting for something (anything) to happen.

Then Annie’s coworker Victoria goes missing after a late-night bonfire party. Everyone in town thinks she ran off, including the woman’s estranged husband. But after an old man finds Victoria’s half-buried corpse on an abandoned farm, the investigation shifts from a missing person case to homicide.

The police arrest a suspect quickly, but the young man’s grandmother hires Annie’s retired private eye grandfather Leroy and his partner, Mary-Pat, to clear her grandson of the murder charge. Leroy, a former sheriff and a renowned drunk, recruits Annie to help Mary-Pat with general office work, but Annie jumps headfirst into the murder investigation and stirs up a hornet’s nest of danger for both her and Leroy.

Pay Dirt Road has an ample number of suspects—Victoria’s husband and his mother, an oil company land buyer hoping to purchase Annie’s property for a pipeline, and two menacing oil workers are only a few—and the culprit is satisfyingly not revealed until late in the story. An incident from Annie’s past is intertwined with the case in emotional and relevant ways and her contradictory relationship with Leroy add interest and tension. Pay Dirt Road is a solid debut by a writer with a bright future.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 16:41:17
Sarah Prindle

On the surface, Ava Wong lives a relatively ordinary—though stressful—life. She is a stay-at-home mom with a perpetually fussy toddler and doubts about her own career path. Her husband works long hours to support their family, though it means he doesn’t get to spend much time with them. Then Winnie Fang, an old college roommate, comes back into her life.

Winnie is wealthy, self-confident, and has an eye for style. Eventually, Winnie reveals her secret to Ava: she runs a counterfeit scam involving duplicates of the world’s most expensive handbags—some of which can be purchased individually for thousands of dollars. It’s a lucrative scheme and Winnie convinces Ava to be a part of it. Soon Ava is traveling between San Francisco and China to help the operation run smoothly, but keeping the secret from her family isn’t easy. When a crackdown on counterfeit trade begins, Ava and Winnie undertake a risky gamble to extricate themselves from the situation.

Counterfeit provides a glimpse into the lives of the ultra-wealthy, the criminal element that surrounds the luxury goods industry, and the struggles of an overburdened mother trying to make her way in the world. Author Kirstin Chen, born in Singapore but now living in California, also touches on Asian-American culture, describing the expectations of families and the flawed image other groups might have of Asians due to stereotypes.

The story is interesting and seems straightforward at first, but the farther one gets in the book, the more the earlier narration is called into question, making the reader wonder which part of Ava’s experiences are true and which are lies. It’s hard to be specific without giving away key plot points, but readers would do well to keep an open mind throughout and take nothing at face value.

And while the unreliable narrative aspect of the novel adds to the mystery of unraveling Ava and Winnie’s predicament, it also made, at times, for an unlikable protagonist. As Ava discovers the world of counterfeit handbags and criminal activity is rife with twists, lies, and subtle manipulations, so does the reader learn what Ava does to fit into that world. Counterfeit is an interesting read about the unsavory side of the luxury goods industry and the lengths it takes to make it in that world.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 16:46:18
When the Corn Is Waist High
Margaret Agnew

Does anybody ever really know their neighbors? When the Corn Is Waist High, the latest in the eclectic oeuvre of Jeremy Scott, poses that question against the backdrop of the sleepy Indiana town of Crooked Creek, where the citizens are accustomed to quiet, familiarity, and endless fields of corn.

Inexperienced priest and elected sheriff Father Solomon Lancaster finds himself at the center of a mess when an elderly woman turns up dead with flowers sewn into her arm. Elected more or less due to church politics, he is not a favorite of the town’s still powerful former mayor. Lancaster’s bumbling and inexperienced staff rivals that of The Andy Griffith Show. They failed to solve the last serious case they had, the disappearance of a still-missing teenage girl years ago, and they’re certainly unprepared for what looks like the appearance of a serial killer.

The cantankerous former mayor recognizes this at once, and calls in loaner officers. When things escalate further, as they always do, he brings in the FBI as well; but even with all these officers running around, the killer proves elusive. It becomes clear that he knows the area and the community just about as well as any member of it. No one seems able to stop him from killing again, and again, and again. Panic sets in fast as he picks off Crooked Creeks’ very best citizens with no apparent intention of stopping.

Scott’s work is the sort of book where the setting is another character in and of itself. The descriptions make the reader feel as though they are in the middle of rural Indiana. The side characters are neighbors everyone has had before, and the police officers feel like they just might walk off the page. Though none of these figures are given a lot of page time, they still manage to be entertaining and bring something to the work.

At its heart, however, this is Sheriff Lancaster’s story. The narrative details his struggles as his spiritual and secular life collide, and as he observes his mentor and predecessor’s slow decline. Though the FBI quickly shoves him and his team aside, Lancaster is the determined sort and gets involved in the case anyway—although he has to get a little creative in doing so.

Just as Lancaster isn’t your average priest—he swears, he drinks, he overeats—this book isn’t your average small-town murder story. Yes, there is a serial killer, and that serial killer is someone the community knows well, but that turns out to be just about the only thing in the story that is expected.

If there is a weakness, it is in the characterization of the (only) female officer, Cindy. The author tells us that she is clever and curious, but she doesn’t exhibit it on the page very much, and Lancaster’s attachment to her feels random, at best. It doesn’t detract from the gory, unexpected fun, but it does hit a rare discordant note.

Filled with twists, turns, and gasp-worthy moments, When the Corn Is Waist High will keep readers turning pages until the very end. And there aren’t many readers who will see this ending coming. I know I didn’t!

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 17:02:23
Martel Dotson

Chicago private detective V.I. Warshawski is back in her 22nd novel, and this time she’s got a trio of cases to solve during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While coming home from an all-night surveillance job, V.I. is led by her dogs to an injured teenager hiding in the rocks along Lake Michigan. The teen regains consciousness long enough to utter a cryptic word to V.I. before being taken away in an ambulance. Soon after, the girl disappears from the hospital before anyone can identify her. The hospital hires V.I. to find the missing girl, and she accepts, even though she’s in the middle of another case involving an antisemitic hate crime against a vandalized synagogue. Add to the pile a young man who hires V.I. to investigate his father who has been acting strangely ever since receiving a mysterious phone call.

Through these cases, V.I. ends up uncovering a sinister conspiracy involving Chicago’s elite, power brokers, organized crime, and cops who abuse their authority—and all of them want to see both the injured girl and V.I. six feet under.

But after more than 20 books V.I. has proven that she’s not gonna be that easy to kill.

A lot of topics come into play as V.I. roams a COVID-struck Chicago: abuse and neglect at nursing homes, overworked hospital workers, a shortage of security staff, an escalation of attacks on minorities. There’s also the reality of having to go out with a mask and wiping your hands with sanitizer after touching something or someone.

Paretsky has not lost her step writing about tales of crime and corruption in the Windy City. Her heroine V.I. Warshawski is just as interesting to read now as she was in her first appearance in 1982. She is still as witty as ever, the woman who always fights to protect those who can’t protect themselves, and who never backs down from a fight—no matter how bad the odds are.

In Overboard, V.I. ends up going toe to toe with a police lieutenant assigned to find the missing girl. He seems to enjoy using brutality—especially on V.I.—to get the results he wants. But V.I. will take a beating and come back with a wisecrack that stings harder than any punch. Her usual band of friends and associates are also back, including her dogs Mitch and Peppy, her nextdoor neighbor Mr. Contreras, and her newspaper frenemy Murray Ryerson.

Overboard is packed with the well-balanced dose of action, mystery, and comedy that fans of this series have come to appreciate. Paretsky’s knowledge of Chicago could be best described as encyclopedic (give or take a few liberties for the sake of the story). To those who are already fans of V.I. Warshawski, well, you know you are already reading this one. And for those who aren’t already fans, I say better late than never.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 17:07:28
When We Fell Apart
Vanessa Orr

When We Fell Apart is a moving novel about love, loss, and feeling like an outsider no matter where you make your home.

When Min, an American living in Seoul, finds out that his girlfriend, Yu-jin, has committed suicide, he doesn’t believe it. He can’t understand why the carefree college girl would choose to leave him, her best friend So-ra, and the freedom that she’d found after leaving her controlling father’s home.

Fearing foul play, Min investigates on his own. Half-Korean and half-American, he begins to understand more about the culture in which Yu-jin was raised, as well as the consequences for not fitting into its traditional female role. As Min is introduced to specific traditions by Misaki, Yu-jin’s roommate, he realizes that he never truly knew Yu-jin, or the people around her.

Korean culture plays a major role in this novel and Soon Wiley provides a fascinating, detailed look into the pressures that the younger generation faces. While there are many things to appreciate about the country, its lack of tolerance for those who are different—either by nationality, sexual orientation, or mindset—is crushing, especially for those pulled between old traditions and new ideas.

Chapters alternating between Min and Yu-jin’s viewpoints highlight the different ways in which they view things, including Yu-jin’s complex relationship with So-ra. Yu-jin was also hiding some weighty secrets from Min, which foreshadow the inevitable confrontation that forced her to make life-altering choices.

While this is not a happy journey, watching Min become more self-aware and comfortable with his bicultural identity is a partial reward. While the death of Yu-jin is tragic, what it teaches Min—and the reader—about trying to conform to others’ standards is a lesson worth learning.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 17:20:42
The Unquiet Dead
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

It’s 1893, the Gilded Age in New York City, and a series of brutal murders of very young girls has the city completely on edge. When a sixth victim is found in one of the poorest sections of town with a 15-year-old Black youth kneeling next to her body, he is arrested and immediately presumed to be the serial killer.

That’s when Amelia Matthew, a spiritualist who uses her occasional ability to communicate with the dead in her work at a nightclub, becomes involved. One of the waiters at the club, a friend of hers, is the father of the arrested teenager and both he and Amelia are certain that the boy had nothing to do with the series of murders.

With the help of her brother Jonas and a few of their friends, including a wealthy young doctor who would like to be more than Amelia’s friend, a defense lawyer whom they know, and a relentless reporter, they set out to discover the truth before an innocent youth is sent to Sing Sing, a deadly prison where his life wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel. However, the more evidence they discover, the more it seems that the young teen may indeed be guilty.

When the father of one of the victims leads a group to burn down the Black neighborhood where the young man’s family resides, all hell breaks loose. In the midst of the chaos, the mispronounced word of a young child leads Amelia to a vital clue that helps her determine the killer. But following up on that clue puts her own life in danger.

The Unquiet Dead is a very well-written novel that seamlessly incorporates a number of social issues into a fast-paced mystery that both intrigues and satisfies.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 18:59:51
The Investigator
Jay Roberts

Readers first met Letty Davenport as a resourceful young girl growing up hard in the Lucas Davenport thriller Naked Prey. In author John Sandford’s The Investigator, Letty takes center stage. Long ago adopted by Lucas, she’s now in her mid-twenties and working for a U.S. Senator in a job she finds less than fulfilling.

She’s ready to quit when her boss offers her a new assignment that will put her “in the field,” something that fits Letty’s skill set much better than a desk job. Teamed with skeptical John Kaiser, a former Army master sergeant who is ex-Delta Force, Letty sets off to Texas tasked by Homeland Security to track down answers behind complaints from oil companies about stolen oil.

The investigation is just a cover, though. Homeland is less concerned about the missing oil than what the stolen oil money is being used for. There are rumors of a militia, a plot, and a mysterious leader.

As Letty and John search for answers, they soon find what they were looking for—and it’s a whole lot more than some stolen oil money. Letty will have to face off with an enemy using all of the skills she’s learned over her life to not only save the day, but reach the end of it alive.

I’ve loved Sandford’s Letty Davenport character since her first appearance in the Prey series. She was a compelling character then and a complete badass now in her first solo outing. The way Sandford builds the partnership between Letty and Kaiser is expertly crafted from their initial resistance to their meeting of the minds as a team that makes both of them better. I loved these two together. I also love Letty’s practical nature. She doesn’t shy away from who she is and what she’s done in life.

When you take all that and add in a story that is both real-world topical and packed with thrills aplenty, The Investigator is another home run from John Sandford that will have readers begging for more Letty adventures.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-09 19:29:08
One-Shot Harry
Kevin Burton Smith

It’s 1963 Los Angeles and the times are definitely a-changing. Uneasy questions about race, class, civil rights, and some sort of conflict in Southeast Asia are simmering. But all cigar-chomping, jazz-loving, African-American, Korean War vet and freelance shutter snapper Harry “One-Shot” Ingram really wants is to keep his head down and peddle a few photos to the local Black papers. So, he tunes in to his police scanner, hoping for the shot that’ll land him in the big leagues and rescue him from his side gig as a process server, praying he doesn’t run too far afoul of brutal LAPD cops… or anyone else.

You know it ain’t easy, though. Martin Luther King’s coming to town for a big rally, which could be a great photo op for Harry, but racial tensions are on the rise. Plus the recent death of his old Army buddy Ben Kinslow in a fatal car accident that may not have been an accident at all is making it difficult to stay on the sidelines.

For Harry, peace is the grease, but a little justice on the side would be nice, so Harry starts poking around. He’s got a vast network of diverse friends and intriguing acquaintances (and an old Colt .45) he’s not afraid to use–if he has to.

Naturally Gary Phillips jams the book with plenty of wonderfully vivid historical shout-outs (the jazz and blues references for a guy Harry’s age are bang-on), wisecracks (Harry’s got a mouth on him), racist thugs (none of whom are fine people), dreamers, schemers, bully boy cops, and enough pulpy goodness and hardboiled shenanigans to keep things pop-pop-popping.

The ballsy Everyman’s amateur sleuthing leads him to a blackmail scheme, an assassination plot, and the realization that not choosing sides may no longer be an option after all. It all culminates in a heart-stopping scene so stand-on-your-seat-and-flick-your- Bic cathartic that I worry Phillips won’t be able to sustain it through a series. And yet, that scene’s so right, so unsettling, and emotionally true, and satisfying. The author is such a potent storyteller and Harry such a crafty, compelling but reluctant hero that I’m glad Phillips has promised that One- Shot Harry is no one-shot.

Can’t wait.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-10 15:55:44
I’ll Be You
Eileen Brady

Blonde, blue-eyed identical twins Sam and Elli Logan found money and fame performing on television when they were younger. Sam loved acting, but Elli soon tired of it. On set they often fooled their director by switching places, Sam learning Elli’s lines and taking her place.

The sisters are grown up now and have chosen different paths. Sam still loves show business, but Elli gave that up for a “normal” married life in the suburbs. Always considered the “good” twin by their parents, Elli has had to rescue her party girl sister multiple times over the years. Rehab, recovery, then Sam’s sliding back into drugs and alcohol has become a pattern that Elli is sick of.

After a particularly unforgivable incident involving her husband, Elli cuts off communication with her twin. It’s been over a year since they’ve spoken when Sam gets a phone call from their mom. Can she help babysit Elli’s toddler? Oh, that’s right, she has a baby. And we’re not sure when your sister is coming back, because we can’t get hold of her.

Bestselling author Janelle Brown does a good job showing how two seemingly similar lives can split into such different directions. The family dynamics are well drawn, the mom in denial and the dad simply trying to keep the peace. But it is the twin bond, so well written here, that is the glue that holds

I’ll Be You together. Despite some divergent plot lines and a far-fetched cult subplot, it is the mystery of the twins and their relationship that shines through. And this time, it is Sam who must rescue Elli.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-10 15:59:31
The World of Pondside
Benjamin Boulden

Mary Helen Stefaniak’s excellent third novel (and her first mystery), The World of Pondside, takes readers inside the nursing home Pondside Manor, where residents are addicted to an alternate reality video game that allows them to relive the best moments of their lives. The game’s creator, Robert Kallman, is a 48-year-old Pondside resident and computer genius who lives with ALS, also known as Lou Gherig’s disease.

When Kallman is found dead, seemingly drowned in the pond still strapped into his wheelchair, the police are unsure if his death is from suicide or something more sinister. But more pressingly, at least to Pondside’s residents, the game he created has stopped working.

It falls on Foster Kresowik, Pondside’s kitchen assistant and Kallman’s friend, to figure out how to start the game again, and in the process determine exactly what happened to Robert Kallman. With the help of a couple of residents, Foster uncovers a harrowing and unforgettable mystery.

The World of Pondside has a bounty of well-drawn and eccentric characters: Duane Lotspeich has only one leg, but he dreams of dancing the tango; Laverne Slotnick holds grudges and thinks mostly about watching baseball with her late husband; Kitty Landiss, Pondside’s petty administrator, dislikes anyone more competent than she (which is a sizable list); and Foster is a self-doubting and agreeable hero worth rooting for.

The nursing home is chaotic and chronically understaffed and Stefaniak skillfully imbues what could be a depressing setting with humor and fun. Foster’s search for Kallman’s killer is compelling, too, but the true treasure of The World of Pondside is its frank discussion of ALS, aging, and memory.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-10 16:02:45
Blood Sugar
Vanessa Orr

It’s easy to fall in love with this novel’s protagonist, Ruby. She’s a therapist, a dog mom, a happily married wife, and... a killer. Sascha Rothchild’s antihero is smart, funny, loyal, and unfortunately, quite murderous.

Even with all her faults, you feel a little bad when Ruby’s accused of killing her husband— a crime that she didn’t commit. Then again, it’s hard to feel indignant for her when you know that three other people have met their demise at her hands, even if (allegedly) well-deserved.

Rothchild, an Emmy-nominated screenwriter, brings all of her talents to bear in this mystery, which practically screams to be put on the big screen. Through alternating chapters from the time Ruby is 5 to 25, we watch her grow up, righting what she considers wrongs in a most conclusive way. She narrates her own tale, providing the reader with witty insights on love, relationships, betrayal, guilt, and murder. She is at times so persuasive that the reader may find themselves, against their better judgment, taking sides with a psychopath.

She’s so charming, in fact, that she is well-loved by friends and family alike; and while the other characters serve to show the good side of Ruby, it’s hard to reconcile this part with the one that can so easily kill without guilt. When the police begin to investigate her husband’s death, it leads them to the realization that she’s left a number of bodies in her wake. Readers won’t know whether to hope she pays for her sins or gets away scot-free.

While this is Rothchild’s debut novel, I hope it’s not her last—especially if future stories feature such rich, unforgettable characters as the deadly and delightful Ruby.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-10 16:11:14
Once a Thief
Jay Roberts

In Christopher Reich’s latest Simon Riske thriller, nothing is ever easy for the semi-reformed, criminal-turned-car restoration expert. And when you involve millions of dollars, age-old feuds, betrayals, and more international intrigue than you can shake a stick at, the word “easy” pretty much disappears.

Riske has completed restoration of a classic Ferrari that a friend has sold for over $100 million. However, when the buyer’s agent raises questions about a missing part, both the friend and Simon are thrown for a loop. Given a week to find the part and threatened with dire consequences if they don’t, Riske has to find out how he could’ve missed something in his exhaustive search. But the answers to that question sets off a domino effect of events that blow up his world, both literally and figuratively.

Meanwhile, Anna Bildt is on a quest to find out who killed her father with a car bomb and why. When her search brings about answers that the killers would rather not have made public, she becomes their next target. Captured for questioning, Anna is going to have to use her wits and some sheer luck to get justice for her father.

But Simon and Anna will soon learn that they are dealing with the same people—people with not only untold wealth, but an untold amount of influence over one of the most powerful and dangerous figures on the international stage. Thrown together by circumstance, the duo has to rely on each other and their respective skill sets if they hope to beat the bad guys and get their lives back.

In Once a Thief, the fourth book in the Simon Riske series, author Reich does a great job capturing the reader’s imagination right from the start. If you are new to the series, there’s enough information revealed about Riske to get one up to speed while never slowing down the breakneck speed of the story. Once a Thief is a thrill ride with plenty of action and one surprising revelation after another.

Teri Duerr
2022-08-10 16:14:28
Susan Elia MacNeal on Her First Standalone "Mother Daughter Traitor Spy"
Jean Gazis
Susan Elia MacNeal

New York Times bestselling author Susan Elia MacNeal is is best known for her Maggie Hope mysteries set during WWII and featuring her remarkable female code-breaker/British operative. (2021's The Hollywood Spy, comes out in paperback this month.) But with Mother Daughter Traitor Spy, a historical thriller set in Los Angeles in the early 1940s and based on real-life events, MacNeal offers mystery readers her first standalone.

The main characters, Veronica and Violet Grace, are an ordinary German American mother and daughter who daringly go undercover to investigate the “California Reich,” a group of Nazis active in the United States. I was lucky enough to review it for Mystery Scene and was captivated by the strong female characters, historical setting, and still-timely themes.

Jean Gazis for Mystery Scene: What was your jumping off point? What drew you originally to the mystery genre, to focusing on the WWII era, and in turn, to this particular story?

Susan Elia MacNeal: True stories—and both involve the Muppets! Bear (really!) with me, my husband was starring as Bear in the Disney Channel’s show Bear in the Big Blue House and was asked to promote the show in the UK for two months. I tagged along and went to the Churchill War Rooms—the catalyst for writing Mr. Churchill’s Secretary and completely changing my life!

Then a few years ago the husband was performing as Sweetums for The Muppets Take the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and he picked up a copy of Steven J. Ross’ non-fiction Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America for me at the airport bookstore. I’d never heard about the Nazi movement in Southern California, and The Hollywood Spy was inspired by revelations from this book.

But even as I was writing, I was further intrigued by the true story of a mother and daughter, named Sylvia and Grace Comfort, who made incredible sacrifices to go undercover in American Nazi organizations in Southern California. (Veronica actually has a tiny scene in Hollywood Spy!) These are the two women who inspired my first standalone, Mother Daughter Traitor Spy.

Susan Elia MacNeal Mother, Daughter, Traitor, SpyThis story illuminates an aspect of the United States WWII history that deserves to be more widely known and is still sadly relevant today—patriotism for a diverse, democratic United States versus patriotism for a white, Christian, authoritarian America. How much did you know about the American Nazi movement before writing this book, and how did you approach your research for it?

I knew very little and the little I did know was about Nazis and American Nazis in New York City (and mostly from fiction, namely the film The House on 92nd Street). But I did see Marshall Curry’s Academy Award-nominated documentary short film, A Night at the Garden, edited from archival footage from 1939, when 20,000 Americans rallied in New York’s Madison Square Garden to celebrate the rise of Nazism—an event largely forgotten from American history.

When I started my research, I went directly to the primary source material Ross used, the extensive Los Angeles Jewish Community Relations Committee archives files held at California State University at Northridge. Because of COVID, I worked closely with one of the librarians (a true hero) who photographed, literally, multiple boxes of old letters, memos, notes, and ephemera so I could learn more about Sylvia and Grace Comfort’s experiences, often in their own words.

Veronica aspires to be a writer who makes a difference, idolizes journalist Martha Gellhorn, and keeps a book of observations that she might use in her own future writing. Are there particular writers whom you admire in the same way? What was it like to write about an aspiring writer from the point of view of a successful one?

I’d read Janet Somerville’s wonderful book on the letters of Martha Gellhorn, Yours, for Probably Always, and it definitely inspired me to write a journalist character. Hearing Gellhorn’s voice in her letters was certainly a jumping-off point for me. And I do admire her, just as much as my character Veronica does. Veronica’s a journalist and I’m a novelist, so it’s two very different kinds of writing, but I vividly remember being an aspiring writer and tried to impart Veronica’s journey with some of that passion.

Vi and Veronica certainly don’t set out to do anything heroic. Like many real-life heroes, they begin by simply doing what they feel is right. Do you think true heroes are always just ordinary people doing what they believe they must?

Heroes are real people who take a stand in difficult and dangerous times. I think heroes can be world leaders and royalty, for sure, but I’m personally more interested in so-called “ordinary people” who chose to act in heroic ways. (Although they don’t always see what they’re doing in that light.)

Why did you give Violet a suffragist background that Veronica was unaware of? Do you think participating in movements like women’s suffrage is one of the ways that people who aren’t considered historic figures actually do change history?

I was listening to the wonderful podcast She Votes! hosted by Ellen Goodman and Lynn Sherr when I was doing research. When figuring out Violet’s birth year, I realized she was the perfect generation to be a young suffragist. And once I figured out that backstory detail, everything clicked for me in terms of knowing Violet and what would give her the strength to go undercover.

One difference between this book and your Maggie Hope mysteries is that in this one, most of the characters are based on real people, but the significant historical figures who are mentioned, such as Charles Lindbergh and FDR, never actually appear in the story the way they do in the series. Why did you make that choice?

Ah, you noticed! Yes, because Veronica and Violet Grace are based on the real-life women Sylvia and Grace Comfort, I wanted to stick close to their actual story. They wouldn’t have had any access to President Roosevelt or Charles Lindbergh or anyone like that. And they are also unmarried women who were short on money—so they don’t go to the glamorous restaurants and dance clubs Maggie and her friends go to.

It felt like painting with a different color palette. I really wanted to show how these women would take the Red Car and grab a sandwich at the Automat and worry about their finances, because that’s how I picture the Comforts living. (There’s actually a nod to the cameos in Maggie’s world when Veronica and Vi go out to dinner in Santa Monica and see Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable’s stunt doubles from Gone With the Wind. Apparently, they really did get married after the film and moved to Santa Monica. But Veronica and Vi run into the doubles, not the real celebrities.)

The two women seem to take opposite paths in their own growth, Vi becoming bolder and more decisive, Veronica reining in her passionate impulses. Their relationship also changes as they begin to see each other in a new light, for example when Veronica realizes—to her surprise—that her mother is really good at playing her undercover role. Do you plan your character arcs in detail, or do they evolve as you write?

I definitely wanted Veronica and Violet to be foils for each other. When we meet Veronica, she’s all youthful energy, flash, and ambition, while her mother is more of a (sorry) shy Violet facing an empty nest and a mid-life crisis. Both women go on personal journeys. One of the things that was fun for me was writing Vi, who’s just turned 50—a heroine with hot flashes!

Murphy Ranch by Chris Gold
The Murphy Ranch is a ranch built in Rustic Canyon, Los Angeles in the 1930s by Winona and Norman Stephens who were sympathizers of the antisemitic, white supremacist Silver Legion of America. Designed as a base for Nazi activities in the United States. it was intended to be capable of being self-sustaining for long periods. The compound had a water storage tank, a fuel tank, a bomb shelter, and various outbuildings and bunkers. (Photo by Chris Gold)

Did you visit the Murphy Ranch before or after writing that part of the story? What was it like visiting the spot where such dramatic events took place, both in history and in your book?

Because of COVID and travel restrictions, I visited the Murphy Ranch after I wrote the scenes, more or less when the book was done. It’s an eerie place, despite the natural beauty surrounding it. After spending some time there, looking around and feeling the atmosphere, my hiking friend and I were relieved to leave and get away from it. I think it’s especially unnerving to visit in 2022, when white nationalism is again on the rise.

Why did you feel it was important to include such detailed historical notes and references at the end of the book?

I’m a bit of a history geek and I always want people to know where I found things, so if they’re like me, and want to know more, they know where to go. I also really like to give sources for things I mention, as so many of my plot points might seem far-fetched and over-the-top. But they’re rooted in actual facts! Truth really is stranger than fiction. With this book especially, I wanted to note all the sources and the process, because I don’t think most people are familiar with Nazis in Los Angeles before and during World War II, and I definitely wanted to show that it’s all based on real people and facts.

I’m sure many readers would enjoy spending more time with the book’s characters, who have such compelling personal journeys. Do you think you might write about them again, or would that stray too far from the actual history?

We really don’t know much about what the Comforts did after they worked as spies. There’s nothing (as far as I can tell, and I’ve done serious research!) on Grace Comfort, the inspiration for Violet. Sylvia, the inspiration for Veronica, eventually went to Washington and became a secretary for a politician.

But as for Veronica and Violet, you never know. Just as Veronica made a cameo in The Hollywood Spy, I’m hoping maybe she and Maggie Hope can meet again in a future novel—perhaps as Veronica covers the D-Day invasion alongside her heroine Martha Gellhorn?

Susan Elia MacNeal The Hollywood SpyWhat are you working on now? What can readers of Mother Daughter Traitor Spy and the Maggie Hope series look forward to next (besides the paperback debut of The Hollywood Spy)?

Now I’m back to Maggie Hope and her friends—Maggie’s newest adventure will find her in Madrid alongside Coco Chanel, who’s working as a Nazi agent. This is also rooted in fact (see Hal Vaughn’s Sleeping With the Enemy), so expect a thrilling ride and then plenty of end notes to let you know what’s real!


Teri Duerr
2022-09-20 22:30:51
Kayte Nunn Explores Motherhood and Mystery in "The Only Child"
Robin Agnew

Kayte Nunn

Kayte Nunn is the author of six novels, but The Only Child is her first venture into historical crime fiction.

The Only Child is set in Puget Sound in both 1949 and 2013, and focuses on what was in the past a mother and baby house run by nuns, and in the present is a house being rehabbed by a mother and daughter as a hotel. The daughter, Frankie Gray, is a cop, and though she hasn’t yet begun her new job in Puget Sound, she becomes involved when a tiny skeleton is found on the property. The book is both haunting and relevant.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: Why set the book on Puget Sound? I loved the setting, but just wondered, as it looks like you have lived many places in the world.

Kayte Nunn: When I began my research, I came across a book called The Girls Who Went Away, by Ann Fessler, which focused on the real-life experiences of American girls and women forced to give up their babies for adoption in the 1950s and ’60s. I knew after reading that, that I wanted to set my novel in the United States. I had lived in Tacoma, Washington, as a girl, and have very strong memories of the area. I needed a fairly isolated place, and so to set it on an island in Puget Sound made perfect sense.

And why 2013 for the present timeline, rather than 2022?

This was from an age-timeline point of view. For one of the nuns from the 1949 timeline to still be alive, I couldn’t push the near-present timeline out too far. In 1949 there was a terrible snowstorm in the Pacific Northwest, and that was central to the story, and I wanted a 1950s setting as it was a time when girls were still very much under the rule of their parents in a way that they perhaps weren’t so much in the 1960s.

I loved that The Only Child was very much about various types of human connection and the importance of those connections. Can you talk about that a bit?

It was one of the elements I came across in my research—how the lack of knowledge about your family background and heritage can be incredibly traumatic. It struck me how important it is to have those connections, something I have taken for granted in my life. I was also interested in writing about the generational connections between women and their experiences of motherhood—and to contrast the connection that Brigid [a pregnant 16-year-old in 1949] feels to her baby with that of Frankie’s more ambivalent attitude toward motherhood.

This is certainly timely, as the United States looks to be banning abortion in a large number of states. Was that top of mind as you wrote the novel?

Absolutely—I have watched on with fury, horror, and despair as the balance of the Supreme Court has changed over the past few years and could see exactly what it was going to mean for the reproductive rights of women and girls. Even though I could see the overturn of Roe v. Wade coming, it was still a shock. The fact that it has happened in the United States is a lesson to the rest of the world that women’s rights can be eroded anywhere.

On that same thread, I thought the way you let the reader live the girls’ reality in the ’50s instead of pounding them over the head with it made the whole thing more powerful. Was that conscious, to avoid having the book be a polemic, or more of an artistic or narrative choice?

I think it’s important as a novelist not to be didactic, but to show through carefully researched example, the reality of a situation through your characters.

The Only Child by Kayte NunnHow did you research these mother and baby homes? What did you find out that really surprised you?

I did a lot of reading, watched a documentary and saw the film Philomena early on in the research process. I was surprised by how few rights the girls and women had: how little time they were given to make a decision, how little knowledge they had about getting pregnant and giving birth, and by the fact that during labor, they were often tied down to their beds, given no pain relief, and sometimes forced to give birth alone. That must have been utterly terrifying.

I was riveted by both alternating timelines. How did you balance them and make both compelling?

I wrote each timeline separately, to ensure that each one had a fully fleshed out narrative with a reason for being there. In a sense, each is a story that you could read separately and stands on its own merits. Once I was finished with both, I then wove them together.

What makes you happy when you sit down to write every day? What’s the most difficult part about it?

That I don’t have to commute to an office and that I make my own hours! The difficult part is self-belief, that you have a story worth writing and that you are the one to write it.

Is there a pivotal book in your life? I think all of us who love to read have that book.

I think there are several, including Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, because she was so meek and overlooked, but incredibly strong-minded, and it felt like one of the first "grown-up" books I read as a child. And The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. I picked it up from a random hostel bookcase during a solo backpacking trip to Mexico and became utterly immersed in the landscape of the novel over the course of several days.

And finally, what’s next for you? What can readers look forward to?

I’m just finishing a first draft of a story about three siblings who reunite 20 years after a devastating event that fractured their family.


Kayte Nunn is the author of six novels, including The Botanist’s Daughter which was awarded the 2021 Winston Graham Prize for historical fiction. The Only Child is her first historical crime mystery. Born in Singapore, she has lived in England, the United States (in the Pacific Northwest), and now lives in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, Australia.


Teri Duerr
2022-08-15 23:39:31
Fall Issue #173, Linda Castillo

173 Fall Cover, Linda CastilloFeatures

Linda Castillo

The bestselling Kate Burkholder mysteries open a window into the insular, but fascinating, Amish culture.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Three Faces of Laura

Vera Caspary’s classic novel has been filmed three different times.
by Michael Mallory

100 Years of the American Hardboiled Private Eye

The December 1922 issue of Black Mask marks the centenary of this iconic figure.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Yasmin Angoe

Practicing what she preached as a high school English teacher resulted in a knockout new series.
by John B. Valeri

My Book: To Kingdom Come

Researching the looting of African art and artifacts from the 19th century.
by Claudia Riess

Six Writers to Watch

Keep your eye on these writers who are breaking new ground and garnering high praise.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Meri Allen

Cozy mysteries and ice cream have a surprising amount in common.
by John B. Valeri

New Voices, Native Cultures

These Native American authors bring nuanced knowledge of their cultures to the mystery.
by Craig Sisterson

My Book: A Mind to Murder

Adventures with a journalist and her jewel thief/investigator husband.
by Daniella Bernett

Emma Viskic

A musician-turned-writer creates a hero who can’t hear the music she loves.
by Craig Sisterson

My Book: Blind Faith

What deadly secrets might a priest know?
by Alicia Beckman

Murder in Melbourne Crossword

by Verna Suit



At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

The 2022 Thriller Awards, CWC Awards, and CWA Dagger Awards



Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Katrina Niidas Holm

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Hank Wagner and Robin Agnew

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short and Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Ben Boulden

Mystery Scene Reviews



The Docket


Advertising Info


Teri Duerr
2022-08-16 22:57:32
At the Scene, Fall Issue #173

173 Fall Cover, Linda CastilloHello Everyone!

This issue marks a milestone of sorts for Brian and me. The 2002 Fall Issue was our first as publishers and owners of Mystery Scene.Two decades later here we are—happily bringing you news and notes from all over the world of crime, mystery, and suspense.

Speaking of anniversaries of note, it’s the 100th birthday of the hardboiled private eye. And according to our gumshoe expert Kevin Burton Smith, this past century of rock ’em, sock ’em entertainment is only a prelude to a new generation of PIs of all stripes and every persuasion. An iconic figure in a thriving genre—what’s not to celebrate?

It was a plainly dressed Amish man, driving a horse-drawn buggy on a winter’s day that sparked author Linda Castillo’s imagination in 2006. Since then she has written 14 bestselling novels about police chief Kate Burkholder set in the Ohio Amish community of Painter’s Mill. Oline Cogdill talks with Castillo in this issue.

Yasmin Angoe cites winning the Eleanor Taylor Bland Award from Sisters in Crime as one of the best moments in her life. “It came at a time when I thought I wouldn’t make it as a writer,” she says. “It helped give me validation that I hadn’t been lying to myself all these years, that people who didn’t know me believed in my story and in me.” Believe in her they did, and so did everyone else who read Angoe’s hard-charging Nena Knight debut, My Name Is Knight. John Valeri catches up with Angoe in this issue.

And once again we bring you one of my favorite annual features: “Writers to Watch” selected by Oline H. Cogdill. Some of these authors are breakouts, some have been around for decades—but all of them are currently making waves. Don’t miss this list of movers and shakers!

After years of seeing themselves depicted by white authors in novels, mysteries written by indigenous authors are increasingly bringing their own voices and perspectives to enrich and advance the genre. Craig Sisterson offers a survey of some of the best and brightest.

John B. Valeri gets the scoop on how a cozy mystery—say one written by Meri Allen—is like ice cream. Craig Sisterson catches up with Emma Viskic, an Australian musician- turned-novelist who created a sleuth who can’t hear the music she so loves.

We’re bidding a fond farewell to Jon L. Breen, our nonfiction review columnist, who has decided to retire after 20 years at Mystery Scene. Jon’s outstanding criticism has been a highlight for me from my first issue working on the magazine and I believe for our readers, as well. We wish Jon all the best and thank him for all his fine work.

Fans of reference works need not despair, however. Pat H. Broeske debuts her new column, “Just the Facts” in this issue. Coauthor of bestselling biographies of Howard Hughes and Elvis Presley, Pat is a former Hollywood journalist and producer of reality-based true crime TV. A Southern California native, she lives in Orange County where she teaches film analysis for a community college. She has also contributed a number of articles to the magazine. Welcome, Pat!

Also in this issue, we have entertaining My Book essays from Daniella Bernett, Claudia Riess, and Alicia Beckman.


Kate Stine
Editor in Chief

Teri Duerr
2022-08-16 23:24:17
Fall Issue #173, Linda Castillo
Teri Duerr
2022-08-17 15:25:13